Midfielder Shannon Smyth believes Ireland are ready to go toe to toe with Russia in the battle for second place in their FIFA World Cup qualifying group.
After four games just two points separate Russia and Ireland in second and third place respectively in Group 1 and with runaway leaders Germany edging closer to clinching the group the battle is now for the runners-up and a possible play-off berth.
Ireland meet Russia at Tallaght Stadium on Wednesday (7.30pm) and then meet them again in Russia on 19 July, five days after the home game against Croatia.
According to 26-year-old Smyth, the next three games will be crucial to Ireland’s ambition.
“This is arguably the most important match at home for us,” says Smyth who plays for Amazon Grimstad in Norway.
“The goal is to get second place and put ourselves in a good position for a play-off. That means we go toe to toe with Russia.
"We got a good result the last time we played them but time has gone on. We have got better, I’m sure they have got better and there would new players in both squads.
"It will be interesting but I don’t think we can put any weight on previous results against anyone. Each game is new and it’s a new opportunity.
“They are physical they have strong tactics, they have got great athleticism and they have been in major tournaments so they have that experience. At the same time we have progressed as a squad and I think we will perform well.“
Wednesday’s game will be Ireland’s sixth successive match in 2014 against teams ranked higher than them in FIFA world rankings and Smyth reckons they are benefiting from the experience of regularly playing against top-class opposition.
“It’s been fantastic competition and you need to play against teams with various strategies, ones that you match well with, ones that have a lot more experience than you do, ones that have world tournament experience, so it’s been fantastic for us and we keep taking positive steps.
“Having been involved for a few years now there has definitely been a bit of a change in the side and it is definitely rolling forward.
"I am honoured to be part of this squad I think we are more professional than ever, More players are on a more professional schedule for the whole year round and I think it is rubbing off.
"That’s a credit to the players who take it upon themselves to do their piece individually which makes the whole stronger. Same with the staff and their commitment. The staff, the players, we all decided to take a step forward and it is paying off.”
It almost paid off last month when Ireland were within minutes of holding European champions and World No.2 Germany to a draw only to be denied by a freak goal in injury time.
Now that the dust has settled on that game, Smyth reckons Ireland can take plenty of positives from what was ultimately a heart-breaking result.
“It did take a while to get over it. I didn’t go and watch the video for a week or so. I think all the girls were a little bit devastated because it would have been a major moment for us but, at the same time, it gave us all a little bit of confidence so we will build on that and move forward.
“We made them work for it. We were very well organised, very determined, very disciplined. It was a lot of work but it was also fun. It is something to build on and has given us a lot of confidence that our tactics work and we have great chemistry.”
Smyth is now hoping that Wednesday night’s game will attract a good crowd to the team’s now home in Tallaght and believes they have a big role to play in any match.
“It would be a great to have a couple more good memories on that pitch and it would have been a great start with the Germany game. I think it was a fantastic crowd that came out and I think we put on a great performance for the locals and I hope they come out again. It will be great to have the crowd out against Russia because this is arguably the most important match at home for us.”
Ireland squad: Goalkeepers: Emma Byrne (Arsenal), Niamh Reid-Burke (Raheny United), Eve Badana (Dexter University). Defenders: Sophie Perry (Millwall), Meabh de Burca (Galway WFC), Louise Quinn (Eskilstuna United), Diane Caldwell (Avaldsnes), Megan Campbell (Florida State University), Yvonne Tracy (Unattached), Karen Duggan (Peamount United). Midfielders: Julie Ann Russell (Peamount United), Ciara Grant (Raheny United), Siobhan Killeen (Raheny United), Dora Gorman (Peamount United), Shannon Smyth (Amazon Grimstad), Rachel Graham (Raheny United), Emma Hansberry (Castlebar Celtic). Forwards: Fiona O’Sullivan (SC Frieburg), Denise O’Sullivan (Glasgow City), Stephanie Roche (Peamount United), Ruesha Littlejohn (Sandviken), Áine O’Gorman (Peamount United).